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LeBron-watch 2018 begins for Spurs fans

A special PtR staff roundtable on what could be San Antonio’s biggest off-season Spurs news.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

All of San Antonio is buzzing about the report that expressed LeBron James’ interest in taking a summer meeting with the Spurs. There is, of course, a case to be made for the Alamo City: Head Coach Gregg Popovich has garnered respect from every corner of the globe, and LeBron James has been on his bandwagon for quite some time. Is a run to the Larry O’Brien enough to bring the King to the Alamo City?

Pounding the Rock contributors Bruno Passos, Mark Barrington, Marilyn Dubinski, Jesus Gomez, and editor-chief J. R. Wilco discuss the possible addition of LeBron James, what it would take, and what it would mean.

If the report is true, it looks like the Spurs have the inside track to signing James. What factors (or dark horse team) could take them out of the lead?

Bruno Passos: Other star movement, Cleveland salvaging its season, and LeBron’s own whimsy are all factors. The Spurs make plenty of sense right now, in theory, but they’ve made theoretical sense to other stars recently, as well, without anything happening.

Mark Barrington: I’ve been enticed into thinking that the Spurs were a superstar destination a bunch of times, and it’s only happened with LaMarcus, who is an all-star but not a top 5 player. I think it makes sense for LeBron, but I’m not sure if it can come together roster-wise and salary-cap wise.

Marilyn Dubinski: A lot of factors could turn LeBron away. If there’s a team that could make salary room for him and present a better chance of winning immediately, like the Rockets with his banana boat pal Chris Paul, I could see him taking that route. There’s always the intrigue of playing for a more storied franchise like the Lakers that also gives him a better place for his desire to be in the filming industry post-career (here’s to hoping LaVar Ball is too much of a turn-off). The other thing that could turn him away from San Antonio is despite all the respect he has for Pop and the how the Spurs are run, maybe having to relinquish all control and just be a player instead of de facto coach and GM will be a bridge too far.

Jesus Gomez: Los Angeles looms large, I think. If LeBron wants to live there, he has options. The Lakers could carve up enough room for James and another star. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Or they could add James, try to figure out if he fits with their young core and potentially move someone at the deadline for an upgrade. The Clippers could have a ton of cap space and assets to rebuild around LeBron if he’s patient. He’s said he’s not interested, but the opportunity to build a roster from scratch could be enticing. It’s likely James will play for one of those two teams or the Cavaliers next season. But you never know.

J. R. Wilco: The report could be true, and still not complete. Assuming James wants to meet with the teams he names, doesn’t mean he’s choosing from those teams exclusively. Which brings up the biggest issue of all: staying in the East and maintaining his automatic annual trip to the Finals. If he’s simply looking for the best non-Western team he can consistently lead to the top seed, he could choose a team like the Philadelphia 76ers where they have all the main pieces in place, could make room for him, and spend the next 3-4 seasons as the Beast of the East and maybe snag another ring.

How would a LeBron James joining the Spurs change the culture of the team?

Passos: If LeBron joins the Spurs, he’ll be coming, in part, because of the culture that’s ingrained in the organization. I would expect plenty of open conversations happening between him and PATFO, but a certain buy-in as to what the team does on and off the floor.

Barrington: I think that LeBron will embrace the Spurs culture, rather than the other way around.

Dubinski: From the outside it would change the Spurs in the sense that they would be a bigger free agent destination and get the media attention we as fans crave (but PATFO does not), but from the inside I don’t think it would change anything. If he came here it would be with the understanding that Pop is in charge, and I think he would not only accept that, but embrace it as well.

Gomez: There would probably be changes. I’d expect constant leaks, for one thing. There would be national media stationed in San Antonio if he were to join the Spurs. LeBron’s Instagram alone would cause more inside information to reach the public on its own. I’d also expect Pop to give James enough minutes to reach records. Other than that, I think he’d be a good fit. He’s too selfless on the court and too smart off it to really cause trouble.

Wilco: Nothing is changing the culture as long as Gregg Popovich is coaching the team, but the feel of the team would certainly change just as it does (to varying degrees) every time a player is added or leaves. Since we’re talking about the biggest name in the NBA, the feel would shift quite a bit, but it wouldn’t be tectonic — something less like the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and more like the 3.0 quake of Groundhog Day of 2018 in Aguanga, California.

Acquiring LeBron James could require a near-max contract, what sacrifices would the team have to make?

Passos: It’d take some combination of moving Patty Mills and Pau Gasol, as well as Rudy Gay and Danny Green not picking up their player options. The latter two may not be happening already, and I don’t see either of the first contracts as immovable — especially if the Spurs were to attach a pick. It’s definitely doable.

Barrington: That’s the issue, can the Spurs keep enough of their roster intact to provide a solid squad. LeBron, LaMarcus, Dejounte and some guys from the Y aren’t going to be competitive. Moving Patty might be the easiest thing to do, but they also need to shed more salary. Tony has to stay a Spur until he retires. That leaves Pau, and he’s an important player. I don’t see how you make it work, but R.C. Buford is probably a lot better at this than I am.

Dubinski: They would need Rudy and Danny to opt out, trade Patty Mills and/or Pau Gasol, and hope Tony will accept the veterans minimum or a mid-level exception. The tricky part is Danny is best friends with LeBron and might be a factor in bringing him here in the first place. Perhaps PATFO can work some of their magic and make him opt-out and wait to be signed later and above the salary cap using his Early Bird Rights. (Don’t quote me on that; I’m not an expert on how this stuff works, but it would be similar to how they signed Patty last summer.)

Gomez: If Danny Green and Rudy Gay opt out and the Spurs waive Pau Gasol using the stretch provision, they’d be close to carving up max cap room. If they renounce Tony Parker, that is. It would be tricky to make room for LeBron without completely gutting the roster, but if they truly have a shot, I think the Spurs would trade whoever they need to trade to make it happen.

Wilco: LeBron has the gravity of a red supergiant star. If you can get him on your team, suddenly a ton of talent is swirling around your front office, ready to take bargain contracts just to stay in orbit. The Spurs might have to give up a draft pick in order to free themselves of contracts that are in the way of offering James what he’ll want, but that will be offset through something the Spurs have never utilized: talent acquisition by attraction. It would be fun to watch.

Pop promised LaMarcus to coach through his initial contract, if LeBron joins the Spurs, does Pop make the same promise LeBron?

Passos: LeBron has looked to control his fate through short-term deals for a while now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if his next contract — wherever it is — was just for a year, with maybe a player option on the second. In that scenario, sure!

Barrington: If LeBron asks him, sure. I doubt we’re talking about more than a 2 or 3 year commitment, anyway.

Dubinski: I’m sure he would if that’s what it took for LeBron to come. LeBron rarely sticks to one place for too long anyway, so if Pop’s plan is to retire and in 2020 or 2021 on either side of the Olympics, I don’t see LeBron stretching Pop’s career out much longer than that, if at all.

Gomez: He’d probably have to in order for LeBron to consider the Spurs.

Wilco: If Pop would make that promise to LMA, I’d think James would rate the same at least. Following the two of them as they work together is a pretty enticing prospect. Watching San Antonio’s daily post-practice pressers crawling with media would make it feel like The Finals had come to town for an entire season.

What would a series between a Leonard/James/Aldridge Spurs look like against the current Golden State Warriors?

Passos: It’d be exactly what this Warriors-era NBA needs: actual competition.

Barrington: Without knowing who the guards are, impossible to tell. That’s a great lineup that will dominate the paint, but somebody needs to bring up the ball. LeBron is capable of it, but not for the entire game. Also that lineup will generate a ton of space for the perimeter guys, so it’d be nice to have a 3 point sharpshooter. I think the Spurs would really want to bring Danny back.

Dubinski: It would be quite a stout line-up defensively and very hard to double-team off of, especially if the guards are respectable outside shooters. If Dejounte Murray can get a shot going to compliment his excellent defense and rebounding, then this Spurs line-up would have both the defensive and offensive abilities to be the Warriors’ kryptonite. (Actually accomplishing that on the court is another matter.)

Gomez: It would be extremely fun, that’s for sure. I believe the Warriors would still be favored, but it would be close. I would weep for the East, though. Without LeBron there, it would be hard to find reasons to watch what happens on that side of the bracket.

Wilco: It would be so good that it might be enough to finally force the league to abandon West/East format for the playoffs and just seed 1-16 by record so the Finals can showcase the two best teams, instead of them meeting in the third round.